Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Debunking Myths

The New England Journal of Medicine published a very interesting article earlier this year. The following is a small excerpt.

Since 2005, a total of 14 states have adopted statutes that expand the range of places where people may use guns against others, eliminate any duty to retreat if possible before shooting, and grant shooters immunity from prosecution, sometimes even for injuries to bystanders.

Such policies are founded on myths. One is that increasing gun ownership decreases crime rates — a position that has been discredited.2 Gun ownership and gun violence rise and fall together. Another myth is that defensive gun use is very common. The most widely quoted estimate, 2.5 million occurrences a year, is too high by a factor of 10.3

In many of our discussions about guns I've questioned these very issues. Does gun ownership add to the problem, and if so how? Are defensive uses of guns as frequent as people say? I've always relied upon my own common sense, basing much of what I conclude on stories that appear in the main stream media about gun incidents. Today for the first time I went looking for support, and it shouldn't surprise anyone, in about 5 minutes I came upon this, what appears to be a rather erudite article in a reputable medical journal written by Garen J. Wintemute, M.D., M.P.H.

The article by Dr. Wintemute even disputes the oft-cited failure of the Washington D.C. gun laws. To me that was a bonus. I was quite pleased enough to find evidence that more guns leads to more gun problems, which is exactly what I've been saying all along.

Big hat tip to The Reading Blog.

Please feel free to leave a comment.


  1. Mike,

    Great research...I won't get into how biased Wintermute is. I'll leave that for another day.

    Let's talk numbers.
    The most widely quoted estimate, 2.5 million occurrences a year, is too high by a factor of 10.

    Okay, let's assume that Wintermute is right and there are only 250,000 defensive gun uses a year. I think there are more, the research (which I've given repeatedly) shows there is more but let's go with 250K.

    Isn't that number close to the total number of violent crimes committed with firearms each year?

    A favorite refrain from the gun banners is "if it saves just one life" --X Law or restriction would be worth it. As I've shown before, the CDC doesn't show that any gun control law is effective..so the people advocating greater restrictions can not show that even one life will be saved.

    However with defensive gun uses, we can definitely see that evidence. We can see evidence of crimes being stopped,right?

    So, isn't it worth it because just as many people use guns to stop crime as the number of people who use guns to commit crime?

  2. More cars leads to more car crashes. Get those dangerous beasts off the road and public transport too, because it sometimes leads to injuries and deaths. Cars and swimming pools have guns well beat on injuries and deaths caused every year and the Medical Journals will back that up too.

    If it could save just one life nobody would have a car or a swimming pool.

    Trees cause death, friend of mine came around a curve on his motorcycle and a tree had fallen in the road. Killed him. Let's outlaw trees.

    Deer cause road deaths and injury all year long here in Texas. Let's outlaw them too.

    One of the greatest causes of vehicular accidents generated by animal involvement is people avoiding stinging insects in their vehicles while trying to drive at the same time. Honeybees have to go too!

    You're still a one trick pony, mike.

  3. What's scary is how TV depicts daily many ways to kill people that have nothing to do with guns --which would be comparatively painless ways to murder.

    Duct tape, for instance, was used here in our city to kill a man.

    The reason guns will stay legal in US is the realization that dictators and their armies thrive with unarmed populace. It creeps out my husband that people's guns are registered and thus could be confiscated, door to door, by a creepy regime.

  4. I meant that guns are comparatively painless ways to murder compared to some we've seen depicted here in our own city. One fellow was buried alive in our fair city --after giving him a last smoke. A little girl was buried alive --in Florida, I believe --by the child predator in the neighborhood. people are drowned, stabbed and thrown off buildings. In the Muslim world, they are still decapitating people and stoning them to death.

    The real problem is not gun ownership at all --it's the evil in the hearts of people. Gun ownership is one defense against cruel regimes getting into power.

  5. note to blogmaster: Barb has infected your blog. Good luck getting rid of her.

  6. FWIW:

    Neighbor kids were setting off fireworks under the current burn ban on an adjoining property to mine. I called the cops as opposed to shooting them or even confronting them, as it's less hassle and made sure my firehouses and extinguishers were in order.

    Response time-58 minutes.

    You live on a different planet than Earth and should have no influence on my laws.

    When seconds count, the police are an hour away.

    If you promise you'll show up with guns and fire trucks from Italy in under 2 minutes at 2:20am on a Wednesday morning with qualified LEOs and EMTs for the rest of my life, I might let you have some of my guns. But I still won't.

  7. Heh, Barb, you've just been branded as an "Infection" by Mud-Rake.

    I just scoped out Rake's and Barb's blogs, and found that they likely don't agree on much politically.

    Still one is posting composed arguments, the other personal attacks.

    Which is a more compelling argument?

    Let this be a lesson for all of us.

    Also there are quite a few left-of-center readers who have commented here. I assume they're still around. Why don't they chime in on these issues? They've already voiced their agreement with Mike...but they won't address us...

    Of course I personally think there are only a handful of people so willing to disregard huge piles of evidence that directly contradict the views Mike has presented.

    I'd love to hear a better theory, tho!

  8. BTW, Mike, I haven't dug too deep into this article. (If I remember correctly some gunbloggers already tore this crappy editorial masquerading as "research" to shreds.

    A couple of fun notes tho that should prove to most anybody that this is mostly bullshit.

    First up, the story that the article opens with is a weird one, and certainly not remotely common. What was the point of such an emotional outlier in the gun debate besides to get the audience in the proper mood to accept "facts"?

    Bob did some great work so I won't overlap.

    "The risks associated with household exposure to guns apply not only to the people who buy them; epidemiologically, there can be said to be "passive" gun owners who are analogous to passive smokers. Living in a home where there are guns increases the risk of homicide by 40 to 170% and the risk of suicide by 90 to 460%. Young people who commit suicide with a gun usually use a weapon kept at home, and among women in shelters for victims of domestic violence, two thirds of those who come from homes with guns have had those guns used against them."

    So does this article cite lawfully kept guns, or unlawfully, or both? Amazingly if you're a member of a gang, your chances of meeting violence and/or being murdered is astronomically high there is also a good chance of a (illigal) gun in the home. More often than not also such "Gun-owners" (can you "own" something you've stolen?) don't follow proper safety and storage procedures as well. Also if a home with guns in it (like Mine, Bob's, Thomas', and many more) are at 170% greater risk of homicide...and he roughly quotes gun ownership rates in the "Millions"
    (anti-gun news group BBC says:
    60 million people sharing 200 million guns!)

    Doesn't our homicide rate look a tad low? I mean we're just talking 12,000 homicides per year...am I doing the Math wrong, or is this bullshit? (Mike, that one IS Rhetorical)

    Also suicides with guns are more common with guns in the house. I'm sure that's true. I'm sure suicide rate with sleeping pills is more common in houses that keep sleeping pills.

    What he and other anti-gunners dragging the touchy subject of suicide out to support their sinister causes is relative suicide rates.

    I use the word "Sinister" as people who use suicide in an anti-gun article are just that. 50% of American suicides are by firearms, that's a lot! But 50% aren't...that's also a lot, and the anti-gunners like to ignore that lot. I generally don't like suicide (generally because if a terminally ill person in pain wishes to die quickly rather than slowly, who am I to judge...and who am I to compare them to a self-centered teenager thinking of doing something very stupid) but I don't give a damn HOW a person ends their life, dead is dead. Would Virginia Wolfe be more-or-less dead if she had shot herself rather than filled her pockets with stones and jumped into a stream?

    They imply that guns are somehow the CAUSE of suicide, many often state that in areas with high gun-ownership they also have high gun suicide, which is true. But what about areas of LOW gun-ownership? Just around here I can think of several areas where gun ownership is very rare...do they have lower suicide rates in total? I think we know the answer. When there are no sleeping pills to take, people don't take sleeping pills, when there is no enclosed garage, they don't run the car and suffocate themselves....but they don't give up on thoughts of suicide...just like criminals who's preferred weapon is a gun don't give up their murderous ways in gun-free prison, and instead choose to use bludgeons or home-made knives to do their sinister deeds.

    How about the Domestic violence angle. Well here we have a subset of a subset, of a subset. We're separating all domestic violence victims from people who enter Woman's shelters (the law states that a woman can file charges and get a man removed from his own home...this will also confiscate all guns in the home and in the Man's ownership to a police storage locker until the charges are dismissed) and then segregating women who lived in homes with guns from that group...and even then they could only boost the number up to 66%! That means that of this really small subset 30% of women who were beaten and threatened badly enough that they had to abandon their own home, and had no family to seek refuge with who lived in houses with guns their husband didn't even think about pulling one of those guns when he was committing battery??? Hell that even seems contradictory of the above facts that say that 170% chance of homicide "fact"....suddenly it drops to %60 when the owner of the guns beats his domestic partner? Those numbers are hardly usable, but even in their most doctored state, they don't seem to support the general theories at hand. This guy can't even cook his numbers to order!

    Now this gem!
    "New York and Chicago, which have long restricted handgun ownership and use, had fewer homicides in 2007 than at any other time since the early 1960s."

    Now in the early 60s guns were perfectly legal to own, and could be done through mail-order, and in hardware stores or shopping malls...and he admits they had LESS of a problem then as they did all intervening years until 2007!

    Seems to me he likes to point at gun control for the "Drop", yet he neglects to look at what the "rise" in the middle was caused by.

    I see a red herring, do you, Mike?

    Also why does he only look at New York, Chicago, and DC?

    No looking at Miami, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Indianapolis ect ect?

    I'd think those would be GREAT cases, as most of them have been granted Conceal carry and had gun control laws REPEALED in the last 20 years. If Gun-control is the salvation of these large cities (that also happen to have some of the largest violent crime rates in the nation) then it MUST be the BANE of these other large cities when such laws are repealed.

    Why aren't they mentioned?

    What he DOES point to is a nifty interactive map that points to My State of Mass and Rhode Island as the two most safe states while my birth state of Maine, and neighbors of New Hampshire and Vermont are both considered more dangerous...but right on par with places like Illinois (Which BTW has seen it's 500th Homicide this year) also what's an "Age-Adjusted Death"??? I can't find the methods for that bizarre term. The only thing I can guess is a certain age is more dead than another age which means that the reason why the numbers don't seem to make sense is because they don't.

    Also I like how suicide numbers somehow correlates to conceal carry laws. Also the map is incorrect, as it states that Massachusetts has "No liberalization of lethal force laws". On the streets, no, we have no "Stand your ground" (essentially in Mass I have a "Duty to Retreat" when confronted with deadly force...I won't comply with the law, as if I can walk or run away from a threat my lethal force isn't justified...if my lethal force is justified, retreat will result in my death. Many states don't have such requirement) but Mass DOES have a "castle doctrine", that many states don't yet have (the law states that if somebody unlawfully enters my house I can immediately assume they mean me harm, and therefor can use lethal force) I can only speak for this state, but the Map is incorrect on one account, likely it is on others...despite using irrational numbers to support itself. (Also even if the Map is correct, there appears to be little correlation between strict gun laws and lives lost.

    This is why I call it "Junk Science"

    BTW can I get some "Age-Adjusted" Firearms Self-Defense Usages thrown in here? I bet with "Adjustments' it'd be in the TRILLIONS!!!

    Now the big question is, will Mike address our concerns...or ignore them.

    I know where my money rides!

  9. weerd, i've said most of what i have to say about guns here; i'm running out of good new points to make about it, so i'm slowly piping down on that subject.

    on the New England Journal of Medicine and whether or not such a journal should even be discussing weapons policy at all, i've got some kind of thought simmering in the back of my mind. it's not quite ready to be voiced yet, though. folks who write in and for the NEJM buy their ink by the barrel, just about literally; i want a good deal more preparation time before i tell them how and why they're full of shit.

    barb seems like... a fascinating kind of specimen, to me. not of a species i could ever have any conversation with, though. rake i haven't even looked at, yet. should i?

  10. Citing Wintermute as an unbiased source is like citing Al Gore on climate, or George W. on world peace.

    His suicide numbers are higher than I've seen elsewhere, but I won't argue with them. I'm very dubious about his claim that gun suicide in DC was reduced with zero increase in other forms of suicide--Even if firearms availability affected rate, it is highly unlikely that there were absolutely no alternate methods used.

    "Living in a home with guns increases risk". I don't doubt that there is a correlation. There is also a correlation between cigarette lighters and lung cancer. Having a criminal in your house increases risk.

    What are the murder and suicide rates among lawful owners, or those with some sort of gun license or registration?

    What is his definition of "defensive use"? Gun control advocates generally insist that someone be shot for it to count as a defensive use. Gun owners aren't that bloodthirsty, we are generally satisfied if the attacker runs or surrenders. Something like 98% of defensive gun uses don't involve shots fired.

    Many of his statements are random--NY and Chicago's murder rates are at their lowest ever. How does that relate to gun ownership? Can he point to actual problems with concealed carry?

  11. that's a needless slur on Al Gore, sevesteen. wintemute may be a biased hack, and dubya is without doubt a fumbling incompetent fool, but Gore mostly just reports and popularizes the consensus of people who do know what they're talking about when they're talking about climate.

    if Gore screws up his talk on climate, there are actually good reasons why he might. he's not himself a climatologist, and when you're trying to popularize science --- to explain complicated, technical subjects in everyday terms to an audience of non-experts --- it's easy to slip up.

    but wintemute claims to be an expert, so he doesn't have that excuse. and anyone who would be president of the USA damn well better be good at politics, so george bush junior stands completely without defense for his screwups.

  12. oh, and weerd: "age-adjusted death" has to do with death rates. older folks of course tend to die more than young folks, so you'd expect their death rates (deaths per 100,000 per year) to be higher. if you want to do statistical comparisons between age groups, it's sometimes necessary to take that into account and try to cancel out the effect of age on your death numbers, which is what "age adjusting" tries to do.

  13. Bob said, "how biased Wintermute is." It reminds me of what I've been thinking about all the times I've been called biased around here. It's when someone disagrees with you, they're biased. Your stats are fair and objective, ours are biased. You're right and we're wrong.

    I thought Mud Rake's comment was pretty funny. I hope Barb didn't take offense like Weer'd did. I was going to thank Barb for coming around in support of the opposition. They were about to buckle under faced with my tireless assault of logic and common sense. Thank goodness you got here just in time, Barb.

  14. Weer'd, You said, "some gunbloggers already tore this crappy editorial masquerading as "research" to shreds." Then you went on to do a pretty good job yourself.

    I promise I'll try to get to some of your points. Family things have been interfering with my blogging lately.

  15. Thanks, Mike, glad you enjoyed my diatribe, tho I'm sure you may not agree with it (kinda makes things fun like that, tho, don't ya think?)

    Nomen, I understand "Age-Adjusted Death" when talking about overall death-rates, or maybe from diseases...but for gun deaths? I fail to see how age is a factor when it comes to gun deaths in any way besides ways to inflate gang and suicide deaths.

    Maybe you see it a different way?

    Also, Mike, there are people who say things I agree with but use biased data or subjective things to support their statement. That's just as junky as the above issues spoken about here.

    This is why I don't just cite news stories, or any other one source, as that WOULD be subjective and I am biased. But remember I was once an anti-gun-guy, but I realized my position was wrong.

    Just as an olive branch I'll give you this page.

    I 100% agree with the political viewpoint of the article....but the article is painfully biased, and the numbers are not reliable one. For me to use such a page as a supportive argument would be me engaging in junk science as well.

    There are lots of pro-gun articles and studies that I discard when I'm composing a pro-gun argument.

    I question if you do the same thing on the anti-gun side, Mike...no offense, but I have my doubts.

  16. weerd, i wasn't trying to defend wintemute nor imply his statistics are good analysis --- i honestly don't know, as i haven't yet dissected his article and may never work up the interest to. i was just clarifying a technical term for any readers who might not know what it meant, that's all.

  17. Yeah, thanks for that, Nomen, honestly I hadn't heard the term m'self.

    As for the article, don't bother, it sucks and is self-contradictory...unless that's what you're looking for (I read Helmke and Rosenthal on the Huff-Po for just that)

  18. Don't mind Mudly --he is obsessed with me and follows me around hoping to turn others against me. He was blogging about me for my letters to the editor when a friend of mine found his blog. If people are of a mob mentality, committed to liberal values such that any who disagree with them are evil and deserving of censorship, he sometimes succeeds in his campaign.

  19. Notice Weer'd Beard --Last I looked, Mudrake had recently used my blog template, colors and all, for his own. I haven't looked today, yet. He usually has a much cooler looking, busier blog than mine. Sits there digging up articles and pictures all day long, I surmise.

    Imitation--the sincerest form of flattery.

  20. "They were about to buckle under faced with my tireless assault of logic and common sense."

    Maybe you are even dumber than you seem at times? Thanks for the chuckle.

  21. I think that was tongue-in-cheek, Tom.

    But Laughter is indeed the correct response.

    It is too bad that Mike is often left to go it alone from the Anti-Sidelines.

    But then again they don't have an argument...and I assert that Mike just hasn't noticed that yet.

  22. Most (not all) of the studies I've seen with pro-gun results explain their definitions and methodology with enough detail that statisticians can duplicate their results. You may not agree with the results, but you aren't left wondering exactly what they mean.

    The language in Wintemute's article is sensationalist. He goes back to 1991 to find a sensationalist story on castle doctrine. He complains about expanded concealed carry, but doesn't show a problem with it. He acts like stand your ground laws mean we get to shoot whoever we want, without fear of prosecution.

    He ends with
    By promoting our sense of entitlement to gun use against one another, it could weaken the framework of ordered liberty that makes civil society possible.

    Another example of inflammatory words, suggesting we are fighting for the right to shoot people who aren't attackers.

    In short, it reads like a partisan blog post, not a well-researched scholarly article.

  23. Mike,

    I found this site researching another comment and thought I would "debunk" your "debunk" of the myths.

    Here is the site:
    Myths about Gun Control

    Myth No. 1: Guns cause crime.

    * A thorough review of 18 studies of the effects of gun availability among potential victims and criminals found that the overall effect on criminal violence was zero.4

    * In one study, researchers found no significant differences in total robbery rates between cities where guns were widely available and cities where they were not; in cities with fewer firearms, armed robbers simply used other weapons.5

    * The best available evidence, based on at least eight national surveys of the general adult population, indicates that guns are used about as often for defensive as for criminal purposes.6

    This conclusion is especially true of handguns.

    Also, not a myth but something you talked about earlier....one of the reasons I carry:

    The National Crime Survey estimates that 83 percent of Americans will be victims of violent crime at some time in their lives

    So, the odds are not only I will be a victim of a violent crime, but also members of my family.

    Support for the numbers we've posted in the past:
    No one knows what fraction of firearms ultimately is used to commit crime, but the percentage is almost certainly tiny. Even if the same gun were never used more than once in committing a crime, only one out of every 309 guns would be involved in a crime in a given year.12 Overall:

    * Only one out of every 123 handguns (less than 1 percent) and one out of every 1,247 long guns (less than one-tenth of 1 percent) are used in crime in any given year.13

    * Even under very generous assumptions to maximize the estimated percentage of guns used in a crime, at most 6.7 percent of handguns would ever be involved in a crime.14

    * If we realistically allow for repeated criminal uses of the same weapons, the fraction of all guns that are ever involved in crime would be less than 1 percent, with long guns under 0.5 percent and handguns under 2 percent.

    How about the myth of the definition of a defensive gun use preferred by the Brady campaign (bad guy dead)
    Americans use firearms for protection an estimated one million times each year. Ninety-eight percent of the time, they simply brandish the weapon or fire a warning shot.33 But not always34

    * Each year, gun-wielding citizens kill an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 criminals in self-defense, three times the number killed by police.

    * They wound another 9,000 to 17,000 criminals each year.

    How about the myth that gun owners shot their loved ones or friends:
    The accidental shooting of an innocent person mistaken for an intruder occurs in fewer than 30 fatal firearm incidents a year, about 2 percent of all fatal firearms incidents.

    Hey Mike...one of your favorite refrains -- Myth No. 5: People who buy guns are more prone to violence and crime than are other people.

    There is little association between gun ownership and attitudes toward violence:49

    • Overall, gun owners disapprove of violence to the same extent as or even more strongly than those who do not own guns.

    • However, gun owners are more likely to approve of using defensive force against attackers.50

    Those who exhibit "violent attitudes" - as reflected in their approval of police brutality, violence against social deviants and dissenters, and so on - are less likely to own guns.

    The traits associated with gun owners show virtually no statistical association with criminal or violent behavior. If anything, gun ownership is inversely correlated with criminal characteristics.

    Wow, I'm only on Myth #5....dare you read the whole thing?

  24. Oops...posted that comment too soon.

    Want to make sure you see this one--going to copy the whole thing:

    Myth No. 11: The availability of guns contributes to crimes of passion.

    Are most murders, particularly of friends and relatives, committed by otherwise peaceful citizens who happen to have loaded guns available in a moment of anger, and who make one slip? Rarely. Domestic homicide usually is a terminal episode in a syndrome of violence rather than an isolated event. When a husband kills a wife, it usually is with his fists or a bludgeon, and he has beaten her many times before. Significantly, if a firearm is used when one spouse kills another, it more often is the wife who uses it in defense against her larger, more aggressive male partner.68 Most of these wives are never indicted because they are legally defending themselves or their children

    About 40 percent of defensive gun uses are connected with assaults in the home,69 and most presumably are cases of family violence.70 But the notion that much serious violence is accounted for by previouslynonviolent people in "crime-of-passion" domestic homicides is wrong.71 For example, in a Kansas City study, in nine out of ten domestic "crime-of-passion" homicides, police had responded to disturbance calls at the same address within the preceding two years an average (median) of five times.72 Moreover, it's not clear what difference gun control laws would make. A large number of men who kill in these circumstances have a previous history of convictions and, as felons, are forbidden by current law to have a gun. One crime study concludes:73

    It is commonly hypothesized that much criminal violence, especially homicide, occurs simply because the means of lethal violence (firearms) are readily at hand, and thus that much homicide would not occur were firearms generally less available. There is no persuasive evidence that supports this view.

  25. I agree, after reading your comments, that the Wintemute article was unnecessarily inflammatory, with that opening story and more superficial than erudite, as I'd called it. Nevertheless, I find some of his conclusions pleasing. And this kind of post surely makes for a good discussion.

  26. Care to read the debunking I posted Mike.

    I don't know that policy center, but nothing I've found shows them to be biased toward firearms, unlike Wintermute and the Brady campaign...even the NRA.